Best Ever Banana Bread

I have such fond memories of growing up eating delicious homemade banana bread that it was one of the first recipes I sough to perfect so my children could also experience this essential simple pleasure. Plus, there is nothing quite like the smell of fresh banana bread wafting through the house.  This recipe captures everything I love about banana bread, a not overly sweet treat that accentuates the natural sweetness of the bananas, soft bread that holds up just well enough to hold a bit more butter, and a bread that won’t leave your fingers slippery with grease.

Banana bread is also very flexible and can be made into banana muffins, or can be the foundation for a sweeter treat if you add chocolate morsels to it. But there is little need to get fancy with this bread because it is absolutely satisfying just as it is.

Ingredients, makes one loaf

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Mash the bananas in a large bowl
  • With a wooden spoon, stir in the melted butter and mix
  • Mix in beaten egg, sugar, and vanilla. Stir gently.
  • Sprinkle in baking soda and salt
  • Add flour in batches until the wet and dry ingredients are mixed
  • Pour batter into buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan
  • Bake for 1 hour

Variations

  • Muffins: bake for 23 minutes
  • Chocolate bread or muffins: add 2 tablespoons chocolate morsels
  • Egg free: substitute with 1/3 cup of applesauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Nothing brings my family more joy than to learn we are having spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner. It is comfort food to the extreme: warm, filling, and each bite tastier than the last. But this is no gratuitous plate of comfort food. This is a recipe made with complex flavors that will please children and adults alike and remind you just how good good food can be.

I first got the inspiration to craft a meat sauce in the middle of winter when I was craving something hearty and warm. And while it generally makes sense during the colder months, I have since made this dish in the middle of summer and enjoyed it just as much. I have also crafted a vegan version with white beans that is equally hearty and comforting, albeit slightly lighter.

I like to use the best quality ground beef I can find since I don’t eat it very often. In my spirit of moderation, red meat gets the fewest allotments, so I like to make it count. For me that means purchasing grass-fed beef from a local rancher at my farmers market, but there continue to be increasing options to find high-quality meat in more parts of the country and world. But, this is a no judgment blog so as long as you are happy with your ingredients, that’s all that matters.

Ingredients, serves 4-6

For the meat sauce

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter, oil, or coconut oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped (or some combination of shallot and onion that produces 1 1/2 cups of onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (if serving to children you can omit or be very sparing depending heat preference)
  • 3/4 cups red wine, split (I use Bogle Petit Syrah)
  • 1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt to taste

For the pasta

  • 1-2 lbs pasta depending on audience. Pasta shape is all about your preference. My family likes spaghetti, but linguine, shells, or any other shape works too. The meat sauce will go a long way and could be spread out over more pasta to serve more people. Cook the amount of pasta that is right for the number of people. If you are serving more than eight people, I suggest doubling the meat sauce
  • Grated parmesan, reggiano, or pecorino to sprinkle generously on top

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil / butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the shallots and onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 – 7 minutes. I like to add a little of my salt to the onions.
  2. When the onions are soft, add the garlic. But have the ground beef ready as you’ll only simmer the garlic for 1 minute
  3. Add the ground beef and salt generously with kosher salt. Sear a little on each side, then break up with your spoon or spatula. Cook the ground beef for 5-7 minutes, stirring and turning the meat so most of it has started to brown and there are minimal spots of pink meat.
  4. Once the meat has mostly started to brown, sprinkle in the oregano and red pepper flakes, if using.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the red wine and stir gently. Let simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, again stirring gently to combine. Bring everything to a boil then reduce the heat slightly and let simmer for at least 15 minutes.
  7. After 15 or so minutes, add the remaining 1/4 cup of red wine and the nutmeg. Taste and add salt as needed. Let it simmer again while you prepare the pasta.
  8. Cook and drain the pasta, returning it to the pot you cooked it in or another large pot.
  9. At this point, the sauce should have thickened and be ready to serve. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to spread the sauce around. Transfer to a serving bow or serve directly from the pot.
  10. Sprinkle each bowl of spaghetti with the grated cheese, and enjoy!
Oodles of Zoodles!

Oodles of Zoodles!

Zoodles took over our house last summer when zucchinis were abundant at the farmers’ markets, and a beloved house guest gifted us our first spiralizer. The spiralizer was surprisingly easy to use, and once we got the hang of it, we were making zoodles in about 15 minutes.

Zoodles, or zucchini spiralized into noodles, are amazingly versatile. They will take on whatever flavors you decide to impart on them; we’ve done several variations of an italian-inspired tomato sauce, a zoodle pad thai, and even just a simple veggie, onion, and herb recipe with a fried egg. Once you get the basics down, you can experiment and find your favorites.

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I start with 2-3 zucchinis per person, more or less depending on the specific people I’m cooking for.

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Using my spiralizer, I magically turn my zucchini into long, noodle-like strands. They are so long I use my chef’s knife to cut them into still long but more manageable pieces. Creating the zoodles leaves behind the inner core of the zucchini, what we call zucchini bolts in my house. The kids love these bolts and their novelty makes them a handy and healthy snack for hungry kids while dinner is being made.

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Then it’s time to saute the zoodles. I heat my large saute pan with olive or coconut oil, and usually add onions or shallots to start. Then I add my zoodles, in batches if needed, being sure to toss the zoodles with the oil and onions. Season with salt to taste. Zoodles cook really quickly, and I find less is more when cooking zoodles. I find 3-5 minutes is all I need to get them warm and flavorful; any longer and they start getting soggy. When they are done the zoodles will have turned slightly translucent.

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When done, top with your favorite sauce and enjoy!

Everything in Moderation

One of my favorite researchers is Dr. Aaron Carroll, a Pediatrician and health services researcher who writes for the NY Times Upshot, has a terrific blog, and a really informative and fun YouTube channel. I have learned so much from him and his smart yet easy to understand analysis on a range of health topics. If you haven’t seen or read him, I highly recommend it. Your brain will thank you!

Dr. Carroll has several pieces on nutrition, and seeing his name on an article that essentially describes how we eat and live brings immense validation that we are maybe doing something right, or close to it. I am someone who values moderation and common sense when it comes to what I eat, but I also like to have some assurance that there is some scientific support for my approach.

Enter Dr. Carroll’s Upshot Simple Rules for Healthy EatingIt’s an unassuming piece that highlights the importance of eating a variety of foods, most of which one should make at home, but makes special note to not vilify or exclude any foods. What I like about his summary is it is very doable. It reflects an awareness that food is good, something to enjoy with friends as part of a pleasurable life. Restrictions often backfire and in most cases there is little scientific evidence demonstrating that completely abstaining from certain foods is the gold standard.

What I take away from this piece, and the way that we generally eat, is everything in moderation. Enjoy your home-cooked meal, and your store-bought treat (every once in a while). Recognize that there are lots of ways you can craft your menu. There are no absolute right or wrong answers. Live your life, eat good food, enjoy.   

Intentions in the New Year

I am not one to make resolutions—they are too strict and unforgiving, the opposite of what I think life should be. But I do think the new year is a prime opportunity to reflect on our lives and the ways we hope to cultivate more joy and serenity in them. As the calendar refreshes, so too can our goals and intentions. Which is why I am taking note of my intentions for the year. Even just writing these down has made me feel renewed and inspired, with the best of intentions.*

1. Do something just for me. It is so easy to have your life as a mother take over every aspect of your being to the point where you don’t remember the person you used to be or the things you used to enjoy. Or maybe you remember them but they are a distant memory, hazy and buried deep in the recesses of your sleep-deprived brain. I’ve decided this isn’t good enough. I was a person before I birthed my children and I am a person still—granted one whose heart and body will forever be altered. Reconnecting with who I am as a person is important for me this year. Some of the things I used to do in a former life are dance, sing, and run—physical and creative expressions that energized my body and soul. As a first step to reclaiming me, I am going to start taking a weekly dance class—committing to it as I do my other responsibilities. If it’s on the family calendar, it’s happening.

2. Prioritize social connections and adult interactions. As a parent, I have fallen into the trap of coordinating my social life around my children. Playdates become the only time I interact with someone outside my family and the most exciting thing that happens all weekend is getting caught up on the latest Netflix original series. But that is not how I want my social life to be. I want to talk to my friends, see my friends, have fun with my friends. So I am going to make time for my adult relationships, including my spouse. There is also research that shows that strong social ties are good for your mental and physical health, so this intention has benefits all around. I will need to be proactive, and again shift how I prioritize my needs, but I think I will be happier and more content when I do.

3. Develop a daily ritual. This is one where I may end up having the best of intentions. Developing a new habit is hard, but I’d like to try. I’d love to have a daily ritual that involves a brief meditation and perhaps a short yoga routine like this one to give my body a boost. I’ve dabbled in meditation, and have enjoyed it immensely when I did it, but I haven’t quite gotten it to stick. I’d like to try again, this time finding a time every day (ideally first thing in the morning) to complete my ritual. Bringing some consistency to my day, a few moments to center and focus on my mental and physical state, will help make me stronger and more resilient throughout the day.

4. More ‘Yes Moments’ in my day.  Sometimes I am too focused on my to-do list and miss the beauty going on unscripted all around me. My children have such an ability to live in the moment—inspired by the magical thing called life that they are learning about. I, on the other hand, have the ability to fret over a to-do list and damper their enthusiasm by being hyper-focused on all the things that need to get done. That’s not very fun of me and it’s kind of downer being the practical one who is always saying no. So in this new year I am going to try and say “yes” more often—to their spur of the moment requests to go ride bikes, or splash in the mud, or put their underwear on their head. Because they have good ideas. Fun ideas. In the moment, unencumbered, life is good ideas. And it feels great to say yes. It’s like a little weight gets lifted every time I free myself from the tether of my to-do list. And the joy it brings to my kids’ faces to have their request heard and validated is priceless. Sometimes I need to pause before I say yes—splashing in the mud means muddy clothes, maybe cold bodies, and likely a messy car. But life shouldn’t always be tidy with crisp check marks indicating what you accomplished that day. Saying “yes” more is one way I think I can add more spontaneity and appreciation for the here and now in my life.

5. Manage screen time. This one is a hard one for me. The internet has such a strong pull yet usually leaves me feeling empty and depleted, as it is one of my many avenues for procrastination. And because my time scrolling and scanning comes at the expense of being productive, it often leaves me more stressed and grumpy than before I indulged in screen time. I’ve taken a few steps to minimize both the time I spend on the internet and the grumpy side effects it produces, specifically removing the worst offenders from my phone so I am not tempted first thing in the morning or when I am at the park with my kids. I am also trying to keep computers to one room in the house—out of site out of mind—so that I need to make a conscious choice to separate myself and work on the computer. Even with all of those modifications, it takes a great deal of conscious will power to choose not to browse the internet. To remember that I can read a book, or get a breath of fresh air, or play with my kids. It is a priority this year to show myself and my family that the internet is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t have ultimate power over me.

6. Make time to be active. Physical health is so important to our health and well-being and I feel better, mentally and physically, when I’ve been active. When I am active my body wants to be more active. It’s inertia at its best and most beneficial. I can feel my cells, bouncing around, ready to go bounce around some more. Not only that, but being active does wonders for my mental health. It helps clear my mind, manage stress, and puts me in a better mood. Those happy endorphins really do have an effect on me. This intention is about making time to move my body: to go for a walk around the block, go running with my dog, or go to a gym class. Better yet, do something active outdoors where I’ll get the benefit of fresh air and maybe a little sunshine—the perfect ways to amplify the positive effects of being active.

7. Push back on perfection. One of the hardest things for me is accepting when things aren’t perfect or done exactly how I envisioned them. I seek perfection and precision as a way to feel in control in an otherwise chaotic world. Unfortunately, trying to ensure everything is done just right takes a lot of energy and takes away from the joy of living, and ultimately makes me feel more overwhelmed. I might have a lot in my “mom brain” about how lunches should be made or how to wash a kid’s baseball uniform, but mine isn’t the only way. And nothing will get done if I have to do everything in an attempt to ensure things are done to my exact specifications. Expecting myself and others to deliver a level of perfection is also detrimental—it creates a tension in my household where my loved ones come to fear the impending critique if something isn’t done right. I don’t want to instill fear—I want to instill love. My final intention for the year is about accepting and appreciating things as they are and not letting my quest for perfection get in the way of doing, loving, living, and enjoying.

*I am human and even in writing these intentions I wasn’t able to follow all of them. A combination of procrastinating with screen time and editing in a quest for perfection resulted in a draft that started in January and was published in April. While I have been thinking about these for the last few months, it took me longer to put them all down than I anticipated. It might not be perfect, but it’s done!